Members of the Biden administration expressed frustration with the lack of race and ethnicity data being reported with vaccination data. Without that information, policy makers and health workers cannot efficiently identify vaccine disparities in the hardest-hit communities.
In a Feb. 1 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, race and ethnicity information was missing for about 48% of people who received at least one dose of the vaccine, though the data on gender and age was nearly complete. The report that covered the first month of the vaccine rollout, from Dec. 14 to Jan. 14 shows that 63% of the nearly 13 million people vaccinated in that period were women, 55% were older than 50, and 60.4% were White.
The lack of vaccination data by race is similar to the same lack of data collection on who was diagnosed with the virus in the early days of the pandemic. The same process has carried over to who has been inoculated.
“We must address these insufficient data points as an urgent priority,” Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of President Biden’s Covid-19 equity task force, said during an administration coronavirus news briefing. “I’m worried about how behind we are. So, let me be clear: We cannot ensure an equitable vaccination program without data to guide us.”
Advocacy from the community helped improve the data collection earlier on, and the unequal impact of the pandemic was quickly revealed.
Black, Latino and Native American/Alaska Native people are up to 3.6 times more likely than White people to be hospitalized from covid-19, while people in communities of color are more than twice as likely to die as White people from the disease, Nunez-Smith said.
From the data reported, about 14% of those who received at least one shot nationally were categorized as multiple or other race/ethnicity, 11.5% as Latino, 6% as Asian, and 5% percent Black, according to the CDC report. The study notes that the demographics of those people vaccinated somewhat reflect the demographics of health-care workers and residents of long-term care facilities — the people in the Phase 1 vaccination priority group — while cautioning that the analysis is hamstrung by the missing information.
A panel of experts advising the CDC on the best way to ensure equity recommended delivering shots in phases, with the most vulnerable people — health-care workers and older people — first. But then states began to deviate from the guidelines, altering who had priority to the limited supply of vaccines.
The “inconsistent emphasis on equity” early in the vaccine rollout coupled with the lack of federal coordination by the Trump administration, “are a few reasons why we are already behind,” Nunez-Smith said. “We must address these insufficient data points as an urgent priority. They don’t just hurt our statistics, they hurt the community.”